One of the most common criticisms of former Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott was his, well, criticism. To be more specific, a major point of contention many Lakers fans and analysts had with the since-fired head coach was just how frequently he called out his young players in the media.
Scott’s replacement, Luke Walton, sounded a bit like his former coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers after the Lakers’ loss to the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.
“I would’ve thought after losing two games, we would have come out chomping at the bit to play again and try to get a win,” Walton told Mark Medina of the Orange County Register. “I don’t know why we didn’t come out with the intensity and hunger we should after early losses.”
Before anyone freaks out, this is a slightly different situation than Scott’s constant barrage of criticism for a few reasons. Walton has earned the benefit of the doubt to an extent by publicly and privately building up the team’s confidence at every opportunity throughout the offseason, showering praise upon his players during training camp and the preseason.
Coaches have to coach, and sometimes that involves criticizing the members of their roster. If Walton was just content to repeat how “phenomenal” his players are 24/7, he wouldn’t be being honest with them. The team has gotten off to slow starts in all of their games so far, and Walton’s evaluation of them was a fair one.
Walton has also implemented a far more advanced offense than the rudimentary, iso-heavy system present last season, with improved defensive schemes to boot, which is far and away more important than any little postgame soundbites. The Lakers are being given far better opportunities to learn and grow than last year when they were often cast aside in favor of allegedly steadier veterans.
All that being said, while the Lakers should be showing more consistent fight to start games, that ultimately isn’t the reason they are losing anyway. For four straight games the Lakers have come down to the wire with teams that were able to put the ball in the hands of a capable, veteran ball handler down the stretch and say “go make a play.” The Lakers were able to stop James Harden enough times down the stretch to win on opening night, but were unable to do the same against George Hill, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George.
None of that is totally on the players or the coaches. The teams the Lakers played, like most of the teams they will play this season, are just further along in their development path than the Lakers are. Walton can’t tell the team to get more talented, but getting them to put in more consistent effort is an achievable goal the team can strive for.
This isn’t to cape for, or assign blame to anyone; it’s just a reality people should be aware of when watching the Lakers this season. Walton is going to publicly set the bar high for his team to give them something to reach for. The act of grasping will help them grow, but we just can’t and shouldn’t expect them to always reach their goals this year.
You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.